Monday, August 16, 2004
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Hurricane Charley hit Sanibel hard, but it could have been worse. We still don't know the exact condition of our houses because the authorities still are not allowing residents back on the island. The only people on Sanibel and Captiva are police, firemen, 50 National Guard troops, and the 100 or so idiots who did not evacuate.
There are no working sewers, electricity, or potable water. Many, many large trees are down, blocking roads.
The soonest they may allow residents to return will be on Thursday. Or it could be as late as Sunday or later. Thanks to high-speed internet and electricity in Paris, we have been able to stay up to date on the situation.
Yesterday, when we left for our evening promenade, we immediately ran into Mr. & Mrs. Billan, neighbors in our building. We said "bon soir" and got into a long, very pleasant conversation, all in French. Mrs. Billan at one point admonished her husband to speak more slowly so we could understand him better. She was enunciating beautifully and spoke at just the right pace, so we understood her well.
We talked about the weather, and the building we live in. They asked if we'd been bothered by the noise coming from the restaurant behind us, on the other side of the courtyard. We said no, but Mrs. Billan quickly deduced that it was because we sleep on the street side of the apartment, not the courtyard side.
Also, we are on the other end of the building, and one floor higher. I think that helps. The restaurant is undergoing renovation while it is closed in August. This is typical. Many Paris businesses do this in August.
Mr. Billan asked if we frequent the restaurant. We said no, making a slight face to show that we think the food there is mediocre. Mr. Billan agreed, then he made a gesture of opening a can. This is quite an insult for the chef at that restaurant. I'm glad he didn't see it. We all laughed.
They explained that several years ago, they bought one of the little apartments upstairs from us. These 6th floor rooms used to be maids' rooms. There was an elderly lady renting the apartment, but the Billans thought she'd be there only a little while since she was so old. But she lived to be 103. She died, not in the apartment, but at her son's home sometime within the past year and a half.
Now the Billan's son is finally able to live in the little apartment. The Billans also own another apartment in the building, in addition to the one they inhabit. I think that apartment is occupied by an older daughter.
We talked about the neighborhood, and how much it has changed in the past 7 years. The Billans did not realize we've been living in this building for the past 7 summers. Finally we're getting to know the neighbors. We've always been friendly and said hello, and the neighbors have been the same way. But now at last we are able to have real conversations.
We all agreed that the neighborhood has become much more chic, with all the chic stores appearing on rue du Commerce. Twenty years ago, the Billans lived in the 16th arrondissement. Tom smiled and said "ah, tres seizieme!" That means how chic and elegant, and it comes from the fact that the 16th, or seizieme, arrondissement is perceived as being so.
Mr. Billan said that is what people think, but in reality, all kinds of people live there. For example, the prime minister, Raffarin, lives there. [Raffarin is perceived as being a simple, country type.] Mr. Billan said there are people "en haut," people of the "moyenne," and people "en bas," like himself, in the seizieme. I agreed that "tout le monde" lives there.
Finally, noticing that I was wearing a Kerry button, we talked about Bush and how important it is for us (the US) to get a new administration. Mr. Billan told us that one of the French government ministers, when asked about Bush's qualifications as president, said that Bush would make a very good farmer. We all laughed.